Thank you, Eva, for a great addition to our conversations; indeed, this post adds another complicating dimension to our previous discussion, which is excellent.
I take your points here about normativity and normcore, especially as it relates to Miley’s whiteness. Although I also agree with Ryan and Chris that her relationship with/to race is complicated, and I think that her appropriation here does function abnormally (read: queerly)—which isn’t to say it’s any less racially problematic.
However, my thoughts on race and normativity need to stew for a bit longer. Instead, I want to think about normativity as it relates to Miley’s status as a pop star. Can we ever really call Miley normal when her fame makes her so exceptional? Even if her actions, etc, are normal or reinforcing the normal/normative, does Miley’s status as ~Miley~ render them abnormal? Perhaps we might call Miley conventional (although I think she’s quite an unconventional pop star, actually) but I don’t know if we can go so far as to call her normal. What happens when the abnormal perform the normal? Or perhaps that’s precisely what normcore is all about and I’m just misunderstanding :/ Do others have thoughts about fame and normality? I need a bit more time to think things through.
Welcome, Eva. And hi, everyone.
Indeed, embracing Miley will be, at least on some level, to embrace whiteness; to ingest it, and, perhaps, to suffer the abiding aftertaste of white supremacy ideology. I do not doubt that white racism underwrites the possibility of many of the tropes represented in this video. Nor do I ignore the video’s entrenchment in a by and large racist pop music capitalist industry (although, by that account, any and all media that comes out of this industry—including Beyonce’s coyly “unreleased” release—will have to be viewed as merely a screen for capitalism, so why bother making much of any of this “cultural” stuff?).
I do doubt, though, that the imaginary this video presents—one of collective revelry—possesses the necessary irony that normcore would by definition seem to require. What I mean to say is, I think the desire in this video for a social scene where black bodies can be/do white bodies and white bodies can be/do black bodies is not ironic, is in fact sincere, and is evidence of a desire for some kind of racially queer utopia. There is a project of reciprocity that is visible in this video. Yes, Miley slaps black bodies, but she is also slapped back by them (0:45). I also don’t think there is any moment in the video that summarizes better the desire to topple social hierarchy than when Miley’s head is literally stepped on by one of her fellow partiers (3:03). Miley is the center of the video by convention, but within the video’s imagery, there is a persistent decentering at work. From the misuse of everyday objects, to the role switching, topping/bottoming, femming/butching, dragging/ratcheting, the imagery here desires everything to be other than what it conventionally should be.
That being said, it’s certainly possible to argue that the particular racially queer utopia represented in this video is already structured by a matrix of white supremacy—one that makes erasing all lines and re-scripting all bodies equally without necessarily taking power differentials into account appealing, perhaps, mainly to white people, and so, in some way, fails to truly achieve a reparative utopian vision of a queer future where that future is not decided unilaterally by white people when they finally get around to imagining a diverse and collaborative world in which they are not the first, the premiere, the default, universal stand-in for “human” experience—queer or otherwise.
Thanks for these questions. To answer your first question: I don’t see a fixed binary between queer and normative, but I think your comments do helpfully point out a difference between how we are each using or understanding queer. For me, queer must center an analysis of power that understands race as more than just a costume that can be put on and taken off. Ironic racialization does not create a queer subject and in fact seems to be the utmost in normative expressions of power. What I mean here is that one of the fundamental expressions of white supremacy is the subjugation of other(ed) bodies to do its bidding. In other words, “this is our house, we can do what we want.” So no, I guess I don’t see Miley as troubling the normal in any significant way even if this is just a performance of hyper-normativity. The constant reminder that this is explicitly superficial works to maintain the brand of normativity that Miley suggests. One that finds fun in playing ugly, but never wants you to forget that she is free, white, and 21.
* edit Sorry this is in response to Michael and Karin. I posted this before seeing your post, Chris.
Eva, this is a great post! And apologies that I have been in and out of discussions; I wish I could sit here all day, but I am schlepping myself around for job interviews, so the unforgiving thrust of capitalism and the need to earn income finds ways to pull me away ;)
In any case, I think this discussion around the performativity of hyper-normative whiteness and exploitative white femininity that Eva brings up is crucial in continuing our discussion about how and in what ways Miley’s appropriation of black bodies and auto-erotic relationship with her whiteness influence “We Can’t Stop,” bringing up competing and contrasting ideas about race, gender, and sexuality.
Karin’s point about drag queens is important—the exaggerated performative expression of femininity becomes queer by superimposing itself upon any normative components. However, drag queen culture today, including its role in RuPaul’s Drag Race, has also taken on new meanings. Contemporary and popular drag that often services hetero- and homo-normative narratives is about “female illusionists” and the idea of how close to a “real” woman one can look. I think this process—the exaggerated femininity becoming normal insofar as it “authentically” copies the original—comes back to our ideas about duplicity and might play a role in racial mimicry as an act of normative whiteness.
This shift in which the hyper-normative model—exaggerating elements so drastically to appear queer and self-parody—becomes normalized could represent what Miley’s video accomplishes. On one hand, I see this normative brand Eva speaks of, because Miley’s use of black bodies is not new in many ways. As I mentioned on Ryan’s post, there is a particular historical moment we occupy in which black women’s bodies are exploited as props to convey sexual meanings. In this sense, Miley’s reliance on a popular trope—that black women are overtly sexual and love to shake their ass—is an inheritance of racialized sexuality that in many ways, makes her a kind of normalized hyper-normative, perhaps challenging many of the queer/not-so-lined up elements we have discussed.
In any case, I also push back on whether her appropriation is entirely nomcore/normative because of the way in which she uses black bodies and ratchet culture to self-taste and auto-eroticize herself, relating back to Ryan’s and Zach’s posts. If we think of Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” video, black women’s bodies are exaggerated and used as hyper-sexual props, yet Lily Allen uses them to make a point about women’s rights, ironically undermining black women to uphold herself as a woman with a brain who “doesn’t need to shake her ass.” Rather than accepting the queerness of ratchet culture and the threatening sexual elements that accompany it, Allen completely disavows them.
To me, Allen’s attempt at parody to make a provocative political point actually normalizes the hyper-normative, whereas Miley’s more interwoven connection with the sexualized elements of the black women she slaps makes it harder to tease apart the queer from the normative.
Thank you for this post, Eva - and thank you for raising these interesting questions. I wonder if there is a limit to how normative you can be before your normativity becomes other. Miley is indeed doing something that is “totally normal” for people her age, but as you say she is doing it publicly and to the extreme. It makes me wonder though - is normality really normal once it becomes hyper-normal? As Michael is suggesting, Miley’s normality appears as a type of normativity trouble - and this is actually one of the ways in which I would read normcore in general. It is a resistance to the resistance of the normal.
I think it’s important to note that Miley sees her normativity as a show, a performance - a “sacrifice” or gift to her fans. It’s explicitly superficial - and she makes sure that we’re constantly reminded of it. Her act reminds me of Judith Butler’s discussion of drag queens. They’re performing the normative idea of femininity to such an extreme that it ceases to appear normal. And like the queens, Miley continually allows momentary cracks, fissures or “failures” of her perfect performance of normativity show.
I guess my question is - can a performance of the normal ever be truly normal?
Thanks Eva for a provocative post which nicely troubles a lot of what we have been saying about Miley over the course of this week. Not so much Miley: Super Queer as Miley: Super Totally Normal. A couple of questions impose themselves here: is it necessarily binary, queer or normative? Or are the lines more blurred? Is Miley recuperable for homonormative discourses (her support for gay marriage in some sense would suggest that she is)? Or heteronormative ones? Or both? Or does that set of concerns run the danger of setting up another pair of binaries: homonormative/queer or heteronormative/queer? There was of course a prominent literary movement called queercore in the early years of Queer Theory (associated with Dennis Cooper among others) and I wonder if there is another dyad operating here: normcore/queercore? These are far from easily settled issues so I guess I want you to say more about what is troublingly normal about Miley even as she is making trouble for the normal. MOR
Karin mentions Medusa and Zach can’t get the image of that foam hand out of his head. Which reminds me of Aphrodite, the one “born of the foam” as Jean-Luc Nancy reminds us in his gorgeous “Paean to Aphrodite” in Corpus II. “We Run things” Miley says. “And why not, since she [Aphrodite] governs things” Nancy writes. Miley’s name almost doubles—to come back to Ryan’s opening post of the week—Smiley. And that is what Aphrodite’s name means: “the one who likes a smile” or “the one who smiles willingly”. (S)miley is Aphrodite: “in her depth becomes surface, makes itself surface”. Aphrodite too is the masturbating girl: “the Goddess of the island gently lifts her cleft. She is, inconceivable, well conceived, the raising of a cleft, the mound of grass parted and her gem, her key, kleitoris”. MOR
I’m really taken with the idea of Miley as ouroboros. A google search with those terms revealed this: http://twitchy.com/2013/11/29/do-you-see-it-this-car-seat-reminds-me-of-... and someone has tweeted that they see a “horrifying Miley ouroboros”. But couldn’t we see Miley’s ouroborotics less as terrifying, petrifying, or frozen but rather as Zach does, in terms of a constant motility, an endless looping (coincidentally, since Miley’s face is seen in a car seat here it is in the chapter on Dude Where’s My Car? in the Queer Art of Failure where Jack Halberstam talks about the queer potential in forgetting, losing, stupidity). MOR
I thoroughly agree with Michael’s and Ryan’s comments - and this is what I was trying to get at in my post above. Miley appears voraciously hungry - for the world, for new identities, new lovers, everything! There is something slightly disturbing about this hunger - just as there is something disturbing about the way Miley wriggles her tongue. It’s not just seductive - it’s almost beyond seduction. It keeps reminding me of Linda Blair’s performance of the possessed child Regan in ‘The Exorcist’ or a Sri Lankan demon mask: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-HEnNTo_Q4Bg/UhK6g6ZEE8I/AAAAAAAAI8E/xL4gIXsuDho/s1600/DSC01011.JPG
Miley performs her queerness and erotic appeal a bit TOO WELL. It borders on what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the ‘carnivalesque’ (which, of course, has often been linked to queerness - it is an attempt to turn the world on its head - reflect it’s most extreme other - to make it come fact to face with what it really is). As we’ve already pointed out, this video portray an endless party or carnival, moving faster and faster, and we won’t stop, can’t stop. Miley’s impossibly skinny selfies further reflect an idea of the carnivalesque. Anorexia and excessive skinniness often gets represented as monstrous in the media - and I think Miley is playing with this. She takes on the image of a hungry, starved, semi-demonic predator - teasing and threatening us at the same time.
I think you bring up something really important here, Chris - the fact that Miley is simultaneously represented in terms of infantile/unripe and tarnished/overripe female sexuality. As Michael indicates above, it’s as though Miley embraces failure (or hyper-success, which practically equates to failure) in both temporal directions of the female sexual development process. She seems to refuse to comply with the term ‘progress’ or ‘progression’ altogether. I’m not sure if I would call what she’s doing ‘stuckness’, though. To me it seems more like she’s developing in multiple temporally non-linear directions simultaneously - and performing them all to excess. She HERSELF is not stuck, but she captures and encapsulates the ‘stuckness’ or stagnation all around her - of society, feminine identity, sexual roles, etc. Once more, I’d like to draw attention to the idea of the ‘carnivalesque’ (which I mentioned in one of my responses to Zachary’s post). A temporally slippery, snake-tongued, semi-demonic and (a la Cixous) laughing Medusa head comes to mind when I see Miley - she looks progress straight in the eye and her stare is petrifying.